Major Fun: Review of Privates on Parade (Part of Mardi Gras Festival)

by theatrebloggers

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So it’s that time of year again: The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and there is an absolutely fabulous addition being staged over at the New Theatre, Newtown.  Peter Nicholas’ Privates on Parade (1977) is aptly described as a farce with music. Set in Singapore during the Malayan Emergency in 1948 we find new recruit Steven Flowers being placed in Captain Terri Dennis’ Combined Services Entertainment Unit. Their mission: to bring song, dance and entertainment to all of the Commonwealth service men based in Singapore.

An overview of the plot could be given, but to do so would be to miss the point of the show.  Nicholas does introduce plot points and complications, but it’s almost as if after introducing them he got bored and forgot about them. There are some issues with interracial politics, the mysterious death of a sergeant and an unscheduled tour to the outer regions where the Chinese guerrilla fighters are lurking, but much of this goes unresolved, or fails to work dramatically. Likewise is it difficult to accept the play as a Gay re-telling of history: you won’t walk out with a new understanding of the Malayan Emergency, nor an appreciation for what the Combined Services Entertainment Unit contributed. But this is all by the by, the show is a fun romp through the jungle and really hits its high points when Capt. Terri Dennis is centre stage. Gentlemen in the front row are warned, you may be invited on stage for your own private lap dance.

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Leading ‘Lady’ Acting Captain Terri Dennis (James Lee) is the Roger Debris of the Malayan Emergency. In performance Lee brings a superior theatricality to the role, giving Noel Coward himself a run for his money. Lee mixes Shakespeare’s playful Puck with a wonderful myriad of Burlesque heavyweights (an inspired Marlene Dietrich included). Without a doubt, Lee is the glue to this production; his effortlessness is a thing to behold.

As Private Steven Flowers, the juvenile lead, David Hooley gives a credible performance, with some warm-hearted moments of humanity littered throughout. His lovely ‘foreign’ lady, Sylvia Morgan, is played to perfection by Diana Perini. Being the only female, Perini is required to hold her own without the use of drag or camp ‘anything’. Perini shows her skill here. She produces delightfully timed comedy and a restrained performance, making her just as watchable as the rest of the male cast.

James Lee as Terri Dennis as Marlene Dietrich

James Lee as Terri Dennis as Marlene Dietrich

Mention goes to Henry Moss as Leading Aircraftman Eric Young-Love. Gifted with gorgeously high cheekbones, Moss is just fascinating to watch, especially when he sings. Possibly that his eyes shine brighter than most, Moss has a particular Broadway spark – that look that invites you to believe that ‘anything’s possible’. Also for mention is Major Giles Flack, played to a pleasing degree of Britishness by Peter Eyers. The entire cast has so much fun on stage, all with great individual moments. It is entirely an ensemble effort. They completely earn their final applause.

You won’t want to see Privates on Parade for its story, but director Alice Livingstone more than compensates for this by placing full focus on Musical Hall and camp elements of the show, which is what really makes it worthwhile. Privates on Parade is a colourful cross-dressing cabaret of marching cadets. A riotously entertaining addition to both the Sydney Mardi Gras and the New Theatre’s 2014 season.

Privates on Parade is playing at the New Theatre, Newtown until the 8th of March. For more information see: http://newtheatre.org.au/whats-on/season-2014/privates-on-parade/

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